Literature and History: The Development of American Culture to 1865

DANCES WITH HEATHENS

I cannot help to be drawn into the notion that some of these people we are reading about are remarkably modern in their perspectives on life, while others are clearly people of a few hundred years ago by their telling. Like we spoke of in class, I wonder if these prejudices can ever be purged from the human condition or just suppressed. Reading that such enlightenment existed, in the case of encounters with the Native American peoples I am doubly drawn to the American Folk themes behind these stories.

De La Vaca’s experience is spectacular example of a famous American folk theme to me. It is in a way married with the sentiments of John Smith’s incident in Jamestown, but has resonance in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leather Stocking Tales, as well as the modern iterations like ‘Dances with Wolves’, ‘The Last Samurai’ or even ‘Avatar’. It is that same story of a sort of Stockholm syndrome that we love to replay in various romantic settings. It produces a journey in which we see a person stuck in a paradigm, triumphantly break out and discover that the ‘truth’ they thought they knew wasn’t in fact true. That life, freedom and beauty exist in other realities besides their own.

Even in Mary Rowlandson’s telling, I can pick up on tones of this theme. Although she clings to her religious high horse for mental stability, her time spent captive clearly got easier as she appreciated that of which she had closed her mind to previously. I particularly love her positioning on food. I almost want to see a parody food network show “Bizzare Foods with Mary Rowlandson”. While her time with the Wampanoag did sound brutal, and I am not justifying the behavior of the Natives, her education with them seemed to enlighten her to certain facets of their culture. Albeit extreme in Mary’s case, this is a glimpse of a modern mind don’t you think?

Rowlandson’s Providence Count = 7 (including mentions of Rhode Island)

Indians called him "1989 hair"

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3 responses

  1. jlblakely

    Mary certainly encountered a bizarre and quite “interesting” assortment of food while in captivity. I thought, as Rowlandson described in detail of what she was about to eat, how disgusting it would be to eat those things-and that the show on food network would certainly account for spectacular ratings! But I came to agree with her in that if one is hungry enough, one will eat anything.

    As her time spent captive with the natives carried on, she did begin to understand parts of their culture and I especially found it interesting that although she was in captivity, she established sort of a routine or way of life-she made clothing in trade for money, food, and other items.

    Another part of the story that I found very interesting was Rowlandson’s description of the Natives ritual/ dance. Based from the tone of her words, it seemed as if she simply could not get a grasp of what they were doing and why-and how foreign this all seemed to her.

    September 23, 2011 at 4:06 am

  2. chessicarose

    Through the reading, I have become fond of both Cabaza de Vaca and John Smith. I agree that they share similar Stockholm themes in their writings. Both men endured captivity and starvation while traveling the American landscape with groups of Native Americans. However, they were able to overcome by gaining the respect and trust of many Native American groups.
    Their writings suggest they grew to understand the Natives by living the same ways the Indians did. They starved and wondered about in search of food. Having to eat horses and dogs, Vaca and Smith were now the same as what they once considered lesser peoples.
    Smith seems to be the most interesting slave or captive. His story of survival is so full of twists and turns, it feels like a movie. The things they did to survive and fit in are things we couldn’t imagine doing in modern times. When free, Smith willingly wore close to nothing like the natives did. At night Vaca and his men covered themselves in deerskin to protect against the cold. I can’t imagine being so famished; starving to the point that raw meat is the best meal obtainable.
    Vaca’s sympathy for the Natives was more visible than the other captivity stories. He even wanted to protect them against enslavement when they ran into another group of Christian’s. Both men presented themselves as powerful leaders, and so they end up leading the Natives. They proved to be friends, not predators. After witnessing Native customs of song and dance and other rituals, the captives tended to feel “enlightened”, changing their closed minded view of the Native people

    September 28, 2011 at 12:21 am

  3. jacquibonaventure

    I think these readings remind us of how humans as a species resort to simple survival instincts. When we encounter people we don’t relate to in the way they look and behave in society, a person’s initial reaction is usually to be defensive. Even now in society we see people act prejudice towards other ethnicities based on things as simple as having a different skin color or if a group of people of a certain ethnic backround act out in a negative way. Reading these stories about a time when the europeans were first exposed to native americans is a reminder of how humans act when faced with the unknown and unfirmiliar. I see it as a reminder of how we actually relate to animals more than we’d like to believe because any species existing that is “below” us acts in similar manners when faced with the unfirmiliar as well.

    November 10, 2011 at 11:15 pm

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